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Artist's Corner: Talking "PLAY" with Chicago Design Museum

Chicago Design Museum is taking a PLAYful approach to the next ACTIVATE on June 12. Join us in the Chicago Theatre Alley as we explore the dynamic relationships between basic elements of design—space, shape, and color.

Elizabeth Cummings, Chicago Design Museum Curator and Event Chair, answers our questions about the artistic process and her experience bringing PLAY to life!

Describe the work that will appear at ACTIVATE on June 12.

The exuberant installation will include a video display, florescent lighting, typographic illustrations, giant weather balloons, and freestanding geometric structures of cardboard, wood and aluminum. Participating designers include The Patternbase, Programme x Michelle Kliman, and Jennifer Wandro.

Photo: The Patternbase gives a behind the scenes look at some of the art coming to ACTIVATE on June 12.

Where did you get the inspiration for PLAY? Did you explore other themes?

Since the idea of PLAY is meaningful to ChiDM on several fronts, our goal was to think about the different meanings of the word – the act of play, playfulness, and playing on ideas. PLAY references one of our first exhibitions, Work at Play. Recently, we have been reading about the work of designer Paul Rand who penned the article, “Design in the Play Instinct”. Most paramount, ChiDM aims to blur the lines between didactic and immersive experiences, this year focusing on making exhibitions and programming increasingly interactive. PLAY was the choice for all these reasons and that attending ACTIVATE is a PLAYful way to let off steam on a beautiful summer evening!

What kind of dialog/interactions do you hope will come from PLAY?

We hope to engage the ACTIVATE crowd in ChiDM’s mission. Come to our summer programs, future exhibitions, and continue the dialog about design in Chicago!

Photo: The Patternbase gives a behind the scenes look at panels being painted for Activate on June 12. 

What has been the most challenging aspect of presenting artwork in such an unconventional space?

While designers work by responding to constraints, the alley is a particularly difficult situation. Since everything we build will be temporary, we need to be respectful of surrounding building owners and fire codes, all the while bringing you an awesome experience. It certainly has been a challenge but one what we are proud to tackle with creativity.

What is the curation process like? How did you select the artists participating?

In many cases, ACTIVATE has been presented as an art show, combining distinct individuals or groups in one space under a particular theme. Being an institution committed to design, we are concerned about the consistency of the overall experience, its spatial flow and, of course, aesthetics. We will partition the alley space into three, with each section reflecting a certain design principle. We asked the designers to respond to PLAY and the principle, each others’ ideas, and worked alongside them as their sketches evolved to create a unified one-night design experience for ACTIVATE.

Photo: Studio Scraps taken by Kristi O'Meara of The Patternbase.

How does this project differ from others you have curated?

This project is similar and different from other projects. Typically when I work on exhibitions the thesis or objects lead design. For ACTIVATE we engineered the space design and the concept in tandem. Overall, the project is much more abstract, the build out is shorter, and it is temporary instead of semi-permanent. We could only pull it together though through elements present in every ChiDM project – our openness to experimentation, talented collaborative designers, and skilled volunteers to build and install.

ACTIVATE is happening June 12 from 5 - 10 p.m. in the Chicago Theatre Alley. RSVP to receive a free drink!

Photo: The Patternbase


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